The place Darkish Skies Draw Star-Gazers, Wildfire Smoke Spoils the View

On Friday, a cold front will likely force some of the smoke out of the Rockies and provide a window with a clear view. But with big fires still burning on the west coast, forecasters say clarity may not last long.

For many visitors to the dark-sky parks in the west, the promise of the diamond-glittering sky is a major attraction. On Thursday night, as Mr. Bohley, the ranger, was preparing for the evening astronomy talk, a man from Philadelphia came by and said he had planned his vacation specifically to be in a park with dark skies at the height of the Persian shower. and asked the ranger if it was okay to stay on the dunes all night and watch.

“Oh yes, we should see a lot tonight,” replied Mr. Bohley. “It looks like we’re finally taking a break.”

Shortly after sunset, a stiff easterly wind swept over the mountains, driving the smoke back west. The sky over the park became clear – or at least clearer.

When it got dark a small crowd gathered and Mr. Bohley looked up and led them to planets and galaxies, white dwarfs and red giants.

The night sky, he told them, was not just a spectacle, it was an important piece of cultural heritage. Looking up at the stars and wondering is as old and universal as dance, song or music. It’s part of the essential human experience, he said

As if on cue, a meteor raced across the sky, leaving a long, silent, silvery tail. The whole crowd sighed unanimously: “Oooooooh”.

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